Roroku yawned a delicate-fanged yawn before presenting her results. “Oh! Atharis, master of physics, has told us that Scorjerak is a energy-increasing world, like so many Platelets. They don’t have a law of conservation of energy; they have a law that lets energy increase sometimes. The samples you have brought back are laced with the dust of a certain quasi-element. It doesn’t fit the usual nomenclature, so I’m going to call it para-niobium for now. It radiates energy and relaxes into regular niobium. Or a particle of regular niobium may absorb energy and become para-niobium. But the energy it releases is greater than the energy it absorbs, so over time a lump of para-niobium becomes more and more radiative and actinic and dangerous.”
“Let’s call it jara-niobium, by great Fumper’s lumpers!” exclaimed Itharieth, to considerable laughter.
The name was accepted unanimously save one, but the one hissed and fumed. “I do not accept this mockery! It is inappropriate for a scholarly expedition to make fun of the chief scholar! If this nomenclature is accepted, I shall name a different sort of dung-dwelling squirmling for each of you, you jawdidj wippixiw wax-andrews! I forbid it!”
(The substance was referred to as para-niobium in Questhraum’s poetry, and jara-niobium in Yarenton’s history.)
Roroku continued, “There was a bit of coarse para-niobium powder in all the samples you brought back.”
Atharis spread his wings. “I, Atharis, wise in the ways of physics, prepare a conjecture! It is this: that the dust has been milled into a size which lets a certain amount of this jara-radiation stay within and stimulate the jara-niobium. Not so much that the dust-mite should gain power and melt. Not so little that the jara-reaction dies off.”
”Para-niobium!” snapped Jaraswat.
“When you say ‘milled’, it sounds almost as if it were done intentionally,” said Osoth.
“Precisely what I mean! This jara-niobium was prepared as a weapon, a city-poison, a panocide or janocide or genocide!” said Atharis.
Yarenton spoke quietly, as if thinking out loud, “But why would the Scorjerakians poison themselves so. A war, with each side dumping deadly dust on the other —? Each side expecting that they could protect themselves from it or at least clean it up, not realizing that they would be destroyed by their enemy’s weapons?”
Jaraswat breathed a jet of green fire on Yarenton’s flank, causing that worthy to yelp and cease his contemplations. “This is no time for zenziz speculations! This is a time for facts — for information — for data trusty and tangible!”
“Well, we could look for signs of such a war,” said Yarenton. “Saber-rattling final issues of newspapers. Milling machines in places most terrible with radiation. Aircraft with dust-hoppers. These could tell us history”
Jaraswat breathed green fire directly at Yarenton’s face, enough to sting but not quite count as an attack. “Of course these things exist! We do not need to seek them out! They are too dangerous! I have prepared the week’s schedules for investigation — including for the delinquent Roroku — and they will be adhered to most precisely!”
“You planned before we anything knew. Yarenton’s questions will guide us true!” said Questhraum. [He did sometimes speak in rhyme, but he was a better poet than I will ever be, so accept my doggerel as a weak imitation of his style. —Jʸ]
“Stop pandering to your despicable lover!” snapped Jaraswat.
“Please, sir, may I pander to the historian instead?” asked Questhraum in a mockingly weak and pitiful quaver.
“You are utterly whomulow; there is no other word for it in any language! The researches will proceed as I have ordered!”Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.